Sinclair on Retrans: It Ain't Broke

Broadcaster says system starting to work as Cable Act envisioned it
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Sinclair Broadcasting had plenty to tell the FCC about the current retransmission consent regime, almost all of it good.

The company's high-profile retrans battle with Mediacom around the time of New Year's Day football games helped
focus the FCC's attention on the regime.

In comments at the FCC on a petition filed by cable operators, including Mediacom, to fix what they said was a broken system, Sinclair countered that it was hardly that.

It said there were relatively few examples of negotiations "taking place in the public eye," Sinclair having been one of them, and even fewer of those where signals are pulled--less than 1% by Sinclair's reckoning.  Sinclair conceded that those interruptions are not good, both costly for broadcasters and "inconvenient" for viewers. But it was not ready to take the fall for pulling the signals when a contract has expired.

The broadcaster argued that cable operators often wait until the last minute to negotiate a new deal, "knowing that interruptions can be costly for a broadcaster."

Sinclair argues that the system is just now beginning to work as it was intended, with broadcasters getting the cash compensation for their signals that the 1992 Cable Act envisioned when it set up the system.

"The petition is simply an effort by the MVPDs to institutionalize one of their favored negotiating tactics–the extension of an expired agreement – through government fiat," says the broadcaster.

Cable operators have pitched their reform push as a pro-consumer effort, saying the current system helps drive up rates, and can impede broadband deployment by depleting resources that would otherwise be invested in that space. But Sinclair says proposed changes would hurt consumers "by accelerating the migration of important programming away from broadcast television, which is free to everyone who wants it, to pay-only services that are not available for free to anyone. The FCC should decline the invitation to adopt new rules that would unfairly favor MVPDs in commercial negotiations with broadcasters."

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Passing the Retrans Buck

In the latest salvo in the battle between cable operators and broadcasters over pay for play, Charter Communications will start itemizing the price increases it says it has to pass along to customers because of retransmission consent costs.